Fujiwara no Teika's gravesite at Shokoku-ji Temple in Kyoto.  Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Fujiwara no Teika’s gravesite at Shokoku-ji Temple in Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

At last, faithful readers, we come to the final poem of the Hyakunin Isshu, composed by the anthology’s compiler himself!

こぬ人を Konu hito wo
まつほの浦の Matsuo no ura no
夕なぎに Yunagi ni
やくやもしほの Yaku ya moshio no
身もこがれつつ Mi mo kogaretsutsu

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

For the man who doesn’t come
I wait at the Bay of Matsuo—
in the evening calm
where they boil seaweed for salt,
I, too, burn with longing!

This poem was composed by Fujiwara no Teika (1162-1241), or alternatively Fujiwara no Sadaie. He is considered one of the greatest poets in all of Japanese history. Teika was the compiler of this Hyakunin Isshu anthology and was also one of the major compilers of the official Shin Kokin Wakashū anthology. As alluded in other posts his influence and talent and his family’s influence were so great that the family virtually monopolized the Court poetry for centuries to come. But we’ll talk more about that shortly.

Fujiwara no Teika, in selecting 100 poems for this anthology, selected this one out of hundreds if not thousands he had composed in his career. But why this poem?

Like many of the later poems in the anthology (poem 90, 91 and 94), this poem alludes to a much older one. In this case, it alludes all the way back to the original anthology in Japan, the Manyoshu. Unlike later anthologies, the Manyoshu was a loose connection of poems 400 years before Teika, but the particular poem he alludes to was written from the perspective of a man whose love was burning for a woman like the boiling of seaweed at Matsuo Bay. As you can see, Teika reversed the perspective to be that of a woman while still alluding to the original. Additionally though, Teika gives his poem a sadder tone than the original, which came to be a hallmark of Teika’s style.

Incidentally, Matsuo Bay (written as Matsuho 松帆 here) is on the very northern tip of the famous Awaji Island in the Inland Sea. It is a scenic part of Awaji Island, and even has its own homepage. The technique of extracting salt by boiling seaweed, or moshio (藻塩) is a time-honored tradition in Japan, and the seaweed gives the salt a special flavor. There’s a really good article about it here.

Fujiwara no Teika was a master of expressing yūgen (幽玄) or subtle, profound beauty in his poetry. This kind of subtle beauty centuries later came to influence other arts in time in Japan including No theater, tea-ceremony, etc.

But who was Fujiwara no Teika?

He was born from an illustrious family of poets though a minor branch of the powerful Fujiwara clan. His grandfather was Fujiwara no Toshitada and his father was Shunzei (poem 83). As a youth, Teika was a sickly boy but as the eldest son, he was obligated to carry on the family legacy. Unfortunately due to complex court politics, Teika was overlook for much of his early life. However after a fortunate turn of events, he was noticed by Emperor Go-Toba (poem 99) who eventually commissioned him to compile two new anthologies: the Shin Kokin Wakashū.

Over time though, Teika and Emperor Gotoba disagreed over poetry and the anthology, leading an increasingly distant and cold relationship. Teika found Gotoba overbearing, while Gotoba didn’t care for Teika’s free-wheeling style. At times, Teika and Gotoba openly criticized one another through poetry, or in their diary entries, and eventually Gotoba banished Teika for a year. Teika meanwhile became closer to Gotoba’s son who later became Emperor Juntoku (poem 100), while Gotoba became increasingly occupied with the martial arts, and with wresting power back from the samurai rulers in Kamakura.

Unfortunately for Emperor Gotoba, his meager forces were utterly routed by the Kamakura army, and Gotoba was sent into exile (since it was sacrilege to kill the Emperor) along with his immediate family. Teika was not involved in the war, so he remained in Kyoto, and even reached the Imperial post of Middle Counselor. During this time, he also completed another Imperial anthology, the Shin Chokusen Wakashū, which shows more of his down-to-earth later style.

Finally though, his health declined from old age and from the famine at the time, so he retired and took Buddhist tonsure. It was during his final years in a Buddhist monastery that he was invited by his son’s father-in-law, Lord Utsunomiya no Yoritsuna, to his villa at Mount Ogura near Kyoto.

Lord Utsunomiya asked Teika to compile 100 poems in his own hand, so that they could be adorned on the silk screens of his villa, and these 100 eventually became the collection that we know today.

After Teika died at the age of 80, his grandchildren formed into three rival schools of Waka poetry that dominated the poetry scene for centuries:

  • Nijō School (nijō-ha 二条派) – the conservative and dominant school at first. Over time, a series of misfortunes eventually caused the school to decline and fade by the medieval period in Japanese history.
  • Reizei School (reizei-ke 冷泉家) – the more liberal branch, but a few generations later became the dominant branch. By the middle of the Muromachi Period, two branches had formed: the upper Reizei school (kamireizei 上冷泉家) and the lower Reizei school (shimoreizei 下冷泉家), which the upper school prevailing in the long-run. This school still maintains a large compound in Kyoto to this day.
  • Kyōgoku School (kyōgoku-ha 京極派) – this school died out in only a couple generations.

But more importantly, the legacy of Fujiwara no Teika is in his celebrated poetry anthologies, and especially this one. Even today, many kids in Japan enjoy playing uta-garuta in school competitions, and there are even Japanese anime about the Hyakunin Isshu.

And of course readers like yourself. This was a originally a little experiment of mine, but I have enjoyed your readership, your comments, and of course your support. Thank you everyone from the bottom of my heart.

As this is the 100th and final poem of the Hyakunin Isshu, that is all I have to offer on this blog. I may take it up again sometime in the future and cover other anthologies like the Kokinshu and the Shinkokinshu, but for now, I decided that I prefer to leave it as it is.

All good things must come to an end, after all.

The Fulling of Cloth: Poem 94

February 26, 2014

Brooklyn Museum - Surimono Woman Fulling Cloth in the Moonlight - Shigenobu

Although not a well-known poem in the Hyakunin Isshu, I rather like this one for some reason:

みよし野の Miyoshino
山の秋風 Yama no aki-kaze
さよふけて sayo fukete
ふるさとさむく furusato samuku
衣うつなり koromo utsu nari

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

Fair Yoshino,
the autumn wind in its mountains
deepens the night and
in the former capitol, cold
I hear the fulling of cloth

Sangi Fujiwara no Masatsune (1170-1221) was another editor of the Shin Kokin Wakashū like Yoshitsune (poem 91) and went on to found the poetic house of Asukai (also famous for calligraphy). He also studied under Shunzei (poem 83) earlier in his career.

I had to look up what fulling cloth meant, but apparently it’s the process of beating cloth, especially wool, to improve the texture, or in the case of Japan, give the cloth a nice glossy sheen. You can see an example of this above, in a painting made in the 1800’s, almost 700 years later. I can’t imagine the process changed much within that time. The process was to place the cloth on a wood or stone surface and pound it with a wooden mallet. In Japanese, the process called koromo utsu (衣打つ) just as it is mentioned in this poem.

Also, this poem, like other poems we’ve looked at recently (poem 90 and poem 91), this poem alludes to a much older poem by Korenori (poem 31), which also mentions snow in the village of Yoshino near the old capitol of Nara.

Interestingly, the “former capitol” is referred to by the poetic phrase furusato, which in modern Japanese means one’s hometown. Nara was the capitol of Japan during the early Nara Period, and personally my most favorite place to visit in Japan. The culture at that time was an interesting fusion of early Japanese culture, Chinese art and culture, and Indian Buddhism (via Silk Road). Even after the capitol was moved to Kyoto (another great place), there existed many euphemisms to the “former capitol” by later poets and authors as a kind of nostalgia or the “good ol’ days”. Hence the use of the term furusato I believe.

Phragmites in Amsterdam 2013

If you like word-play, you’ll enjoy this poem quite a bit:

難波江の Naniwa-e no
芦のかりねの Ashi no karine no
一夜ゆへ Hitoyo yue
身をつくしてや Mi wo tsukushite ya
恋わたるべき Koi wataru beki

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

Due to that single night
of fitful sleep, short as a reed’s joint cut at the root
from Naniwa Bay,
am I to exhaust myself, like the channel markers
passing my days in longing?

This poem was composed by Lady Bettō (dates unknown), who served in the house of Empress Seishi, whose husband was Emperor Sutoku. Lady Bettō was also the daughter of Minamono no Yoshitaka.

Although the life of Lady Bettō is relatively unknown, and she doesn’t appear in many anthologies, Professor Mostow points out that her poem is quite a technical feat. There are a lot of “pivot words”, or words that can either refer to the previous statement, or the latter one:

  • karine can mean cutting a root (刈り根) or a brief nap (仮寝) such as when travelling.
  • hitoyo can mean either a single segment of a reed (一節) or a single night (一夜).
  • mi wo tsukushi can mean either to exhaust one’s body (身を尽くし) or one of the famous barriers in Osaka Bay (澪標, see poem 20)

The poem itself uses many familiar themes too. We’ve seen a lot of poems that feature Osaka Bay, called Naniwa in ancient times, including poem 20, poem 19 and poem 72 among others. Similarly, we see references to reeds, just as we do in poem 39 and poem 19 (again).

What makes this poem stand out is the excellent use of word-play throughout. On the surface, it looks like just another love poem, but Lady Bettō knew what she was doing. 😉

Snowy Plover Morro Strand

As the weather gets colder, I’ve been saving this one for a time like this:

淡路島 Awaji shima
かよふ千鳥の Kayou chidori no
なく声に Naku koe ni
いくよねざめぬ Ikuyo nezamenu
すまの関守 Suma no sekimori

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

The crying voices
of the plovers who visit
from Awaji Island—
how many nights have they awakened him,
the barrier-keepers of Suma?

The author of the poem, Minamoto no Kanemasa (dates unknown) was a frequent participant in poetry contests of the day, but overall very little is known about him, and it doesn’t appear he had any poetry collections of his own.

The first time I read this poem, in Japanese, I misunderstood the phrase chidori (千鳥) to literally mean 1,000 birds (in other words, a lot of birds). But in fact, chidori refers specifically to plover birds. The plover is representative of winter, and as we’ve seen before other birds represent for other seasons:

The location, Awaji Island, is a well known part of Japan’s inland sea, and is culturally significant since antiquity. Though at this time in history, it seemed a bit remote from the capitol.

Professor Mostow notes that this poem uses some strange grammar though. For example nezamenu would normally mean to not wake up, but in this context means “have they awakened” instead. Also, he notes that this poem apparently alludes to the Tales of Genji, specifically the “Suma” chapter, when the prince Genji was in exile.

All told, this poem paints a sad, somber picture that fits well with wintry days.

One of the best ways to appreciate and celebrate the Hyakunin Isshu anthology (besides reading and reciting the poetry) is to play the traditional card game called karuta. I’ve written about it here and here before, but recently I found a good article on the Japan Times about a famous karuta store in Tokyo that has been selling karuta cards for 90 years.

I did some digging and found the store’s website (sorry, Japanese only). If you’re in the downtown Tokyo area, particularly in the Chiyoda Ward, you can find it here:

According to their website they are:

  • 3-min walk from Jimbocho Sta.(A4 exit)
  • 7-min walk from JR Suidobashi Sta.(east exit)

The Jinbocho Station is the nearest one though. There also seems to be a good curry house right next door, and Japanese curry is pretty awesome, so next time I go, I will probably go visit both. 😉

But what if you can’t afford to go to Japan, and just want to get a set of Hyakunin Isshu cards yourself. There are options to buy them online, but the quality may vary and shipping is somewhat expensive:

  • You can buy from Amazon JP, which is bi-lingual (look for the in English button at the top, and ships almost anywhere.
  • You can buy from Rakuten, an online shop in Japan. Rakuten sometimes has better selection, but the ordering process is a little more difficult for non-native Japanese speakers. Price will be roughly the same.
  • White Rabbit Express is a special service that will find and ship things you request. It’s more expensive, but if you’re a little shy, it might be well worth it.

Good luck and happy card hunting!

Kennebunk River, Fog

This is a great poem for the deep of winter:

朝ぼらけ Asaborake
宇治の川ぎり Uji no kawagiri
たえだえに Taedae ni
あらはれわたる Araware wataru
せぜの網代木 Seze no ajirogi

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

As the winter dawn
breaks, the Uji River mist
things in patches and
revealed, here and there, are
all the shallows’ fishing stakes.

The author of this poem is Fujiwara no Sadayori, son of the famous poet and critic, Fujiwara no Kintō (poem 55) and respectable poet in his own right.

The Uji River (宇治川), now known as the Yodo River, is probably one of the oldest and most famous in Japanese poetry, and runs through the Osaka metropolitan area. It is mentioned in the earliest Japanese poem anthology, such as the Manyoshu, and others.

I actually had to look up what “fishing stakes” are. The term, ajirogi (網代木), refers to stakes in the water, like a fence or weir. Fish swim into these places and they were easier to catch with nets because they had fewer places to escape.

Professor Mostow notes that the combination of the Uji River and the fishing stakes was a very famous image in ancient Japanese poetry, and this coupled with the image of a cold winter’s dawn make this a powerful poem. Unlike other poems in the Hyakunin Isshu which might be hypothetical, exaggerated or talk about something abstract such as love, Mostow points out that this poem likely was written exactly as Sadayori saw it. I can only wonder what it was like watching the fishermen go to work early that icy morning.

Traffic seen from top of Arc de Triomphe

This poem is a nice reminder that “traffic” and “commuting” are two things that haven’t really changed much in 1,000 years:

これやこの Kore ya kono
行くも帰るも Yuku mo kaeru mo
別れては Wakarete wa
知るも知らぬも Shiru mo shiranu mo
逢坂の関 Ōsaka no seki

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

This it is! That
going, too, and coming too,
continually separating,
those known and those unknown,
meet at the Barrier of Ōsaka

This poem was composed by one Semimaru (蝉丸) who is reputedly a blind man who built a hut near Osaka Barrier and was famous for playing the biwa, but the authenticity of this story if questionable, and as Mostow points out, it’s not even certain he existed at all. The story about his life has also changed throughout the generations, so in some cases he’s the servant of the son of an Emperor, and in others he’s the son of an Emperor, abandoned by his blindness.

The place in question, Osaka Barrier, is a popular subject of poetry from this era. Poems 62 and 25 also mention the same place because it was a popular meeting spot for people coming and going from the capitol (modern-day Kyoto) eastward. Note that this Osaka has no resemblance to the modern city of Osaka, which was called Naniwa during that era. In fact the name of Osaka Barrier is also a pun. The chinese characters are 逢坂, which means “meeting hill”, but is also the place-name.

A traditional Japanese checkpoint or "sekisho"

A traditional Japanese checkpoint or “sekisho” 関所 courtesy of Wikipedia.

Anyway, these kinds of check-points, or sekisho (関所) existed in Japan across major roads going in and out of the capitol, but were also popular meeting places for friends and lovers too, as well as having inns nearby for weary travellers. Osaka Barrier in particular was the first check-point leaving eastward from the capitol, so many people probably parted company here, or met old friends at this particular gate more than others. It’s fun to imagine what Osaka Barrier was like in those days. As Mostow points out, this poem probably was originally just a poem about Osaka Barrier, but by the medieval era, it took on an increasingly Buddhist tone in symbolizing the coming and going of all phenomena. Even modern Japanese books on the Hyakunin Isshu tend to reflect this sentiment. Pretty interesting metaphor I think.

One other interesting thing about this poem is its rhythm. If you read this one out loud, the rhythm is very easy to follow, and this is probably one of the easier poems to memorize if you’re looking for a place to start (poem number 3 is another good choice in my opinion). 🙂

Matengai of Kuniga Coast in Oki Island Shimane pref600

Another random poem I found lately. Interesting enough, it has some relation to the much later poem by Emperor Gotoba (poem 99):

わたの原 Wata no hara
八十島かけて Yasoshima kakete
こぎ出ぬと Kogi idenu to
人には告げよ Hito ni wa tsugeyo
あまのつり舟 Ama no tsuri no bune

To which Professor Mostow translates:

O tell her, at least,
that I’ve rowed out, heading towards
the innumerable isles
of the ocean’s wide plain,
you fishing boats of the sea-folk!

The poet, Sangi Ono no Takamura (802-852), was one of the premiere poets of his time, particularly with Chinese poetry, which was very popular in that era. People considered him a rival to the famous Chinese poet Bo Juyi, which was quite a compliment. Bo Juyi’s poetry is frequently recited or mentioned in many works from the Nara and Heian periods (such as the works of Lady Murasaki, poem 57).

For his talent with Chinese, Takamura was selected to be part of the 837 embassy to Tang Dynasty China. Such trips were incredibly perilous, because Japanese ships were not designed to cross deep sea, and withstand frequent typhoons. Plus ambassadors had to stay for 10+ years at a time, and some never returned from China at all, as we see in poem 7. It was probably for these reasons and more that Takamura refused to go, but as punishment he was exiled to Oki Island and sent this poem back home as he headed for exile.

Oki Island shown above, as you may recall, is where Emperor Gotoba was also exiled centuries later and stayed there for 20 years before he died. It is a lonely island facing the cold, windy Japan Sea/East Sea and far removed from the Court. Noble-born members of the Court were often exiled here, among other locations (see poem 100) for some length of time until they either died, or the reigning Emperor granted clemency. Fortunately, Takamura was pardoned a year a later though and allowed to return home.


This was something I read recently that I felt like posting:

田子の浦に Tago no ura ni
うち出でて見れば Uchi idete mireba
白妙の Shirotae no
富士の高嶺に Fuji no takane ni
雪は降りつつ Yuki wa furitsutsu

To which Professor Mostow translates as:

As I set out on
the beach of Tago, and look,
I see the snow constantly falling
on the high peak of Fuji,
white as mulberry cloth.

This poem was composed by Yamabe no Akahito ( dates unknown ) who according to Mostow was a contemporary of Hitomaro (poem 3). He is also one of the Thirty Six Immortals of Poetry and was a leading poet during the reign of Emperor Shomu.

Mostow carefully explains that this poem, like many of the earlier poems in the Hyakunin Isshu were written in an old Japanese-Chinese hybrid script called manyōgana and was thus open to many interpretations. In fact, the poem has evolved over time and the version in the Hyakunin Isshu is only one such version.

This matters because there’s much debate about where Akahito actually was. The location of Tago no Ura is now Suruga Bay in Shizuoka Prefecture, but originally may have meant some place much closer to Mount Fuji, under it’s “shadow”, so to speak.

One other interesting note for readers of this blog is the middle line, shirotae no, which as you may recall from poem 2 is one of those special “pillow words” used in Japanese poetry. It is a very idiomatic term which conveys something that is gleaming white, or as Professor Mostow translates, white as mulberry cloth.


This is a well-known poem in the Hyakunin Isshu, and I felt worth posting here:

世の中よ Yo no naka yo
道こそなけれ michi koso nakere
思ひ入る omoi iru
山のおくにも yama no oku ni mo
鹿ぞ鳴くなる shika zo naku naru

Which Professor Mostow translates as:

Within this world
there is, indeed, no path!
Even deep in this mountains
I have entered, heart set,
I seem to hear the deer cry!

The author, Fujiwara no Toshinari (1114-1204), or “Shunzei”, is the father of Fujiwara no Teika (poem 97) who compiled the Hyakunin Isshu anthology and was the foremost poetry expert of his time. Additionally, a surprising number of other poets in the Hyakunin Isshu were associated with (poem 81, 86 and 87), or studied under Shunzei (poem 89 and 98) or were directly in opposition to him (poem 79). Shunzei is probably the second most important person in the Hyakunin Isshu after his son of course. 🙂

This poem is both moving and technically strong. For example, according to Mostow, the phrase omoi iru is a “pivot word”, meaning that both the words before and after hinge on its double meanings: omoi-iru “to set one’s heart on” and iru “to enter”.

Again, as Mostow explains, the poem generates quite a bit of debate because it’s not clear what concerned him so much. Was it melancholy, a sense of his mortality, or was the state of society at the time (i.e. the decline of the Heian Period)?

Speaking of a deer’s cry, I found this video one of the famous “Nara deer”:

The Nara deer are more domesticated versions of the wild deer in Japan, but it gives you an idea what Shunzei must have heard deep in the woods 900 years ago.

P.S. Photo above was taken of a souvenir we received from a friend in Japan, celebrating the 1300th anniversary of the city of Nara. The little figure on the right is Nara’s mascot, Sento-kun. We’ve been to Nara too a couple of times. Here’s me standing next to one of the Nara deer in 2005.

P.P.S. See poem 5 for something similar.